A pivotal yet often overlooked part of the entrepreneurial journey is deciding whether to scale up your business or keep it comfortably small. This choice is incredibly profound for founders grappling with personal challenges such as depression and anxiety. This decision’s implications affect business operations, personal well-being, and life satisfaction.

I recently had the chance to read, Company of One by Paul Jarvis.  This book is completely counter-cultural to how we define success in entrepreneurship.  Jarvis proposes a thoughtful approach to what true success can look like when you align it with your most cherished values—freedom, family, and health.

Whether you’re a startup founder in the throes of scaling or a seasoned entrepreneur questioning the next step, I wanted to share a few insights with you.

Understanding the Drive to Grow

In the entrepreneurial world, there’s a pervasive mantra: “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.” This notion suggests that continuous growth is not just an option but a necessity for survival. But where does this pressure come from? It is woven into the very fabric of our capitalist society, which often equates bigger with better and success with expansion.

For many founders, this external pressure translates into a relentless push towards scaling up. Success stories that dominate media portrayals of entrepreneurship reinforce this—stories of startups rapidly transforming into global corporations and founders who achieve billionaire status overnight. This narrative can make it seem like exponential growth is the only path to success.

However, the reality behind the scenes is often filled with stress, anxiety, and a gradual erosion of personal well-being. The drive to grow can lead entrepreneurs to work incessant hours, sacrifice personal health, and neglect meaningful relationships. The fear of becoming stagnant or falling behind can cloud judgment, pushing founders to pursue growth even when it may not align with their personal or professional goals.

For founders dealing with depression and anxiety, these pressures are not just challenging; they can be debilitating. The constant stress can exacerbate mental health issues, leading to burnout and a profound sense of isolation. Recognizing this, it’s important to question the default path of limitless growth and consider how such decisions align with one’s overall quality of life.

By understanding these pressures and their origins, entrepreneurs can start to make more informed decisions that prioritize their mental health and personal values over societal expectations. This shift in perspective is crucial for sustainable entrepreneurship that supports rather than drains the founder.

The Value of Limiting Growth

In the compelling narrative of Paul Jarvis’s Company of One, a crucial question is posed: why grow big? Jarvis argues that more isn’t always better; it’s just more. This perspective challenges the traditional business growth model by advocating for staying small as not just a viable option, but a strategic choice that can lead to greater personal satisfaction and sustainable business practices.

The philosophy of limiting growth isn’t about stifling potential; rather, it’s about defining what enough looks like for you. For many entrepreneurs, particularly those juggling the demands of personal health and family life, setting intentional limits on business growth can provide a much-needed balance. It allows them to focus on quality over quantity, depth over breadth, and relationships over transactions.

One practical example of this approach is setting a growth cap, like a 15% increase in revenue or customer base per year. This cap isn’t just a random number—it’s a thoughtful measure to ensure that the business grows only to the extent that it can while maintaining the founder’s health, values, and life priorities. This approach helps prevent the common pitfalls of overexpansion such as diluted customer experiences, strained resources, and personal burnout.

Setting these limits also empowers founders to make business decisions that align with their personal values and the lifestyle they wish to lead. For instance, opting not to pursue a potentially lucrative deal because it would require too much time away from family or exacerbate stress. Here, the value isn’t just in the financial gain but in maintaining integrity and well-being.

In embracing a model that respects personal limits, founders find that they can run their businesses on their own terms. They create environments where their businesses serve their life goals rather than their lives being consumed by their businesses. This shift is not only liberating but also reinforces the notion that in the realm of entrepreneurship, one can indeed be successful without subscribing to the myth of perpetual growth.

The Real Costs of Growth

The allure of business growth is often tinted with visions of success and prosperity, but beneath the surface lies a harsh reality—the costs that aren’t often discussed. These costs are not merely financial; they deeply affect entrepreneurs’ personal lives and mental health.

Health Costs: Rapid business growth frequently demands long hours and high stress, which can take a significant toll on physical and mental health. Entrepreneurs often report issues like insomnia, chronic stress, and anxiety as they struggle to keep up with the demands of an expanding business. For instance, the founder from the “Selling the Couch” podcast shared his struggles with insomnia exacerbated by the pressures of managing multiple business tasks, illustrating how the body reacts physically to the mental burden of growth.

Relationship Costs: As businesses grow, so too does the time required to manage them. This can lead to less time spent with family and friends, weakening the support systems that are crucial for mental health and well-being. Entrepreneurs find themselves missing out on important family events or simply the daily joys of spending time with loved ones, leading to a sense of loss and regret over time.

Emotional Costs: The constant pressure to succeed and the fear of failure can create an emotional rollercoaster for founders. The narrative of needing to be always “on” and continuously successful can lead to feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt, particularly during tough phases of the business. This can deepen the impacts of depression and anxiety, making it hard for founders to find joy in their work or pride in their accomplishments.

These real costs suggest a compelling argument for setting deliberate growth boundaries. By understanding and acknowledging these costs, founders can make more informed decisions that balance business success with personal health and happiness. This balance is not only crucial for the sustainability of the business but for the well-being of the person behind it.

Redefining Success

In a world where success is often measured by revenue, headcount, and market share, there is a growing movement among entrepreneurs to redefine success on their own terms. For founders grappling with depression and anxiety, redefining success can be an essential part of the journey towards both personal well-being and business sustainability.

Personal and Professional Fulfillment: Success doesn’t have to mean being the biggest or the fastest-growing company. Instead, it can be about building a business that allows for a fulfilling life. This includes time for hobbies, relaxation, and, most importantly, uninterrupted time with loved ones. Redefining success to include these aspects can lead to more satisfaction and less regret in the long run.

The Role of Therapy and Support Networks: Engaging with mental health professionals through therapy can be a game-changer for entrepreneurs. Therapy provides a space to process the unique pressures of entrepreneurship, explore personal definitions of success, and develop strategies for managing stress and anxiety. It’s a powerful tool for maintaining mental health and ensuring that business pressures do not overwhelm personal values.

Moreover, surrounding oneself with like-minded entrepreneurs who prioritize balanced growth and well-being can reinforce these new definitions of success. Networking groups, mastermind sessions, and entrepreneurial forums that focus on sustainable practices can offer support and validation for those choosing a different path. These communities can be instrumental in reminding entrepreneurs that they are not alone in their struggles or their aspirations for a healthier approach to business.

Success as an Ongoing Process: Redefining success is not a one-time task but an ongoing process that evolves with one’s personal and professional journey. It requires continual reflection and adjustment as priorities change, challenges arise, and new opportunities present themselves. Entrepreneurs who embrace this fluid definition of success are often better equipped to handle the ups and downs of business without sacrificing their mental health or core values.

Practical Steps to Balance and Intentionality

For entrepreneurs seeking a more balanced approach to business growth and personal well-being, intentional actions are key. Here are several practical steps that can help founders maintain this balance, optimize their business strategies, and safeguard their mental health.

1. Set Clear Growth Limits: As discussed earlier, setting intentional growth limits can help maintain a balance between expanding your business and preserving your quality of life. Determine what level of growth is manageable for you and stick to it, even if opportunities for faster expansion arise.

2. Consult with Specialized Psychologists: Talking to a psychologist who specializes in working with entrepreneurs can provide crucial support and insight. These professionals understand the unique challenges of entrepreneurship and can offer strategies specifically tailored to manage the stress, anxiety, and emotional ups and downs that come with running a business. They can help you integrate your personal values and mental health priorities into your business model.

3. Prioritize Your Health: Make your physical and mental health a non-negotiable aspect of your daily routine. This might mean setting aside time for exercise, meditation, or hobbies that help you unwind and disconnect from work. Remember, a healthy entrepreneur is more effective and capable of making sound decisions.

4. Build a Supportive Network: Surround yourself with other business owners who share a similar vision of balanced growth. These peers can provide empathy, understanding, and advice based on their own experiences. They can also serve as a reality check when you’re tempted to make decisions that might lead to overextension.

5. Regularly Review Your Business and Personal Goals: Set aside time to assess both your business performance and personal satisfaction regularly. Are you meeting your growth targets without compromising your health or happiness? Adjust your strategies and goals as needed to maintain alignment with your broader life goals.

By following these steps, entrepreneurs can create a fulfilling business journey that respects their personal limits and contributes positively to their overall well-being.

Therapy For Founders and CEO’s Struggling With Finding Enough And The Anxiety Of Growth

Choosing to prioritize well-being and life satisfaction over unchecked business growth is not just a personal decision; it’s a strategic one that can redefine what success means for you as an entrepreneur. By embracing a balanced approach to business growth, engaging in therapeutic support, and implementing practical steps to manage your well-being, you can build a sustainable and fulfilling career.

If you’re feeling the weight of decisions about whether to expand your business or maintain its size and are struggling with anxiety or stress related to these choices, consider reaching out for professional help.

I specialize in working with founders of growing companies.  As a fellow founder who decided to cap the growth of my main company, I understand the unique challenges you face and can provide tailored support to help you navigate your entrepreneurial journey with greater ease and clarity.